Middlesbrough’s frustrating start to the Championship season continued on Saturday as they fell to a 1-0 defeat away at Reading in the early kick-off on Saturday.
Neil Warnock’s side were aiming to get their campaign back on track after they suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Blackpool in their previous Championship game.
However, against Reading, they were largely second best right the way through the game until the closing 20 or so minutes when they battled to try and get themselves a late equaliser.
The defeat means that Middlesbrough have now won just two of their opening nine Championship matches whilst also suffering four defeats.
That is not the sort of form that will be needed if they are going to have any chance of getting themselves in the mix of sides chasing the top-six.
Ahead of the game against Reading, Warnock told the media that is where his Middlesbrough squad ought to be this season. That means that there will be plenty of headaches on his mind at the moment following Boro’s latest frustrating result.
Boro were hard done by the referee’s decision to send off Matt Crooks for going for a 50-50 with Reading goalkeeper Luke Southwood, but in truth, they lost the game because of their performance level mainly.
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So, with Middlesbrough having lost 1-0 at Reading on Saturday we take a look at TWO headaches Warnock will have on his mind…
Trying to identify Middlesbrough’s best team
After nine matches have already passed in the Championship it will be a major concern for Middlesbrough and Warnock that it seems they do not yet have their best starting line-up identified when everyone is fully fit.
The game against Reading saw Warnock hand a first Championship start to midfielder Martin Payero as he searched for an extra spark and some added technical quality in the middle of the park.
That saw James Lea Siliki dropped to the bench but it was a change that did not really pay off.
The absences of the likes of Abel Hernandez, Anfernee Dijksteel and Paddy McNair did not help matters for Warnock when it came to naming his side for the trip to Reading.
However, that still does not hide from the fact that it seems he still does not know his strongest XI at the moment.
Middlesbrough did make signings late on in the summer, with all of Lea Siliki, Hernandez and Andraz Sporar coming through the door just before the end of the transfer window.
That does perhaps explain why it might take a little bit more time for Warnock to have everything sorted out in terms of his strongest possible line-up.
Time though is of the essence in that regard, and in particular, you feel Warnock has to find the right balance in midfield out of his options if Boro are to improve over the coming weeks and months.
Quiz: Have Middlesbrough ever been involved in these 18 scenarios?
Middlesbrough’s lacklustre attacking and build-up play
The major issue that stood out for Middlesbrough during their 1-0 defeat at Reading on Saturday was how much of a struggle it was for them to get into any sort of rhythm in terms of their patterns of play.
Warnock’s sides are not synonymous for free-flowing and attractive football. What you do expect from them though is a clear blueprint on how to maximise their often low amounts of possession and provide a real threat to their opponents.
What that usually entails is having a big strong centre forward who can hold the ball up and bring others into the game. While are is often also one or two players whipping consistent quality into the box from deadball situations.
The issue for Boro at Reading was that Sporar does not have the physicality needed to be a real dependable target man, and Crooks was never able to get into an advanced enough position to try and do that job for him.
As a result, Middlesbrough barely threatened against a side that had the worst record in the Championship defensively, hadn’t kept a clean sheet and who also had been facing the most amount of attempts on goal before Saturday.
The closing stages saw Middlesbrough carve out one or two dangerous moments, not least Joe Lumley’s near remarkable moment at the last from a corner.
Boro are not going to improve this season until they fix their identity as an attacking force.
It could mean Uche Ikpeazu coming back into the side maybe even alongside Sporar. Whatever the change that is made it needs to be done switfly to turn things around.